Secret Santa
Page 15

 Sierra Dean

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In my black leather corset and pants, carrying a sheathed sword, I looked like a dominatrix trailing behind Holden in his business-casual attire. This late on Christmas Eve, the stores and eateries of Sunnyside had long since closed for the evening. The community was predominantly Catholic, judging by the rosaries dangling in car windows and the crucifixes displayed through open windows. Most of the neighborhood would be attending a Christmas Eve mass at one of the multitude of churches nearby.
I didn’t put much stock in there being a heaven, but maybe there was someone up there, because it was a Godsend that we made it through the bulk of the city without anyone seeing us. I kept a step or two behind the vampire, not wanting to interrupt his focus. We’d gone a few aimless blocks from Queen’s Boulevard with nothing of note, but then he’d caught whiff of something dark and we’d been following it ever since.
“We’re getting closer,” he said to ease my unvoiced concerns.
“Are you sure?”
He paused and looked at me over his shoulder in a way that said, Seriously? I decided it was better to not question his judgment again and instead followed his nose like Toucan Sam on the prowl for Froot Loops. We crossed the freeway, and I couldn’t help but steal a glance at the New York skyline lit up against the mottled black of the sky. Clouds were moving in, but the fat moon was still visible like a bright white eye watching us and lighting the way.
In front of a fire station Holden came to an abrupt halt.
He didn’t sniff the air like a werewolf, but he closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. His countenance was tight with focus, his brows knit together, and a frown deepened the lines beside his mouth.
I bit my tongue to repress the urge to ask what he smelled.
“In there.” He pointed across the street to where a concrete-slab wall rose into a high iron fence.
I inhaled sharply. Nolan hadn’t been kidding when he said the fae would pick somewhere dark. A sense of foreboding cloaked me in a nervous chill. Behind the fence sat an old red-brick Victorian house with a turret and brown-shingled roof. It wasn’t the house that made me nervous, although old Victorians did give me the willies after I almost died in one, even if it was only a set on an amusement park lot.
It was what the house guarded that made me tense up.
Beyond the gates and the house, the heads of stone angels and the points of carved obelisks rose up in dark relief towards the purple glow of the sky. Where the moonlight caught the aged cherubs, their faces were stained with tears from decades of rain, and their features were smoothed down until they no longer looked innocent or protective. The angels all looked on to the expansive graveyard below with blank expressions. Their eyes could not see but could still cry.
He crossed the street, and I hesitated but followed after a beat.
The main gate was locked, barring those who might attempt a little late-night hooliganism. It couldn’t bar Holden and me from entering, however. He pulled himself up as though he were weightless, then balanced with his feet between the spikes and offered a hand down to me, helping me up to stand next to him.
For a moment we stood next to each other on the thin iron band stretching across the fence, steadied like tightrope walkers. His hand lingered on mine longer than need be to keep me from falling. I held my sword and didn’t try to disengage him.
“Let’s go,” I whispered, then jumped off the fence and landed in the brittle brown grass below. A second later the leaves beside me crunched softly to announce his arrival.
We rose together, and I got a good look at the graveyard for the first time. Without the fence to obscure our line of sight, the tombstones spanned for what seemed like miles. Across the darkness I saw a sign planted in front of the old red-brick house that read Calvary Cemetery. Well beyond the fields of grave markers, the expressway buzzed with traffic and the sky glowed yellow from the light reflected off the clouds.
I exhaled a hazy breath, but Holden made no such sign on the night. In spite of the distant noises and the muffled sound of Christmas celebrations from houses nearby, the graveyard was dead calm. The tombstones in front of us were as worn down as the angel faces overhead, and most bore decidedly Irish surnames.
A chill crept under my skin and knocked at my bones, trying to find purchase in the core parts of my being. Something was wrong here and I didn’t know if it was just the fae. I put my hand on Holden’s shoulder and he jerked. So I wasn’t the only one who felt uneasy here, good to know.
“Can you still smell it?”
He nodded tersely. “Even more now.”
Judging by the flare of his nostrils and the tight, pained expression he wore, something was rotten in the state of Denmark. I didn’t ask because I wasn’t ready to know the response, and Grandmere always told me not to ask questions if I didn’t want the answer. It was the same logic that made me never ponder out loud whether or not my ass looked big in jeans.
Holden pointed down one of the footpaths that led into the heart of the cemetery. We traversed the uneven ground at a good pace, and I did my best to avoid any broken stone outcroppings or bits of crumbled angel wings that might trip me up. The sheer number of angels meant to watch over the dead gave me the willies. They all looked sad and more than a little foreboding with their wide arched wings and tear-stained cheeks. In spite of the mission at hand I kept looking up and shuddering at their hooded eyes and forlorn mouths.
Our pace picked up until Holden was moving at a jog, and when I looked back over my shoulder I couldn’t see the entrance gate or the house anymore. The New York skyline, however, was visible between the tombstones and stained-glass mausoleums.
God this place was creepy.
When Holden skidded to a stop outside one of the crypts, I almost slammed into him. I steadied myself by pressing one hand against his back, then sliding my fingers upwards so I could squeeze his shoulder. I think I meant to comfort him with the gesture, but it was more for me than for him. I needed to feel connected to something alive, or I would risk being sucked into the darkness. Holden might not be alive, but he was my best available option right then. Better a vampire than whatever lurked in the shadows behind us.
“It’s here.”
I didn’t need him to tell me, not anymore. Mingled with the smell of old blood he’d been chasing was a heady dose of the fresh stuff, and I had no problem smelling fresh blood from this close. The building we stood in front of was about ten feet tall and made of aged limestone. It had been designed to look Roman, with two columns leading to a classic peaked roof, with carvings of angry lions and gladiators in the edifice. There were two small windows made from yellow-and-green-stained glass, but what they were meant to depict—if anything—was impossible to tell.
What set these windows apart from similar ones we’d passed was that they were lit from within. The luminescence was so slight it could have been overlooked if we weren’t standing right outside, but from our position I could discern a faint, flickering firelight making the green glass look like sun-dappled tree leaves.
Then something inside made a hard scraping sound and I heard a meek whimper.
Not waiting for Holden to act, I pushed him aside and kicked in the door. The entrance hadn’t been designed to protect against forced entry, and the lock gave way with no protest. There was a small lantern on the floor, which was the source of the light. With Holden and I in the cramped chamber, the light cast a series of jittery shadows against the walls and threw our silhouettes into the dim graveyard, where they danced and shivered in the spaces between tombs.
We were otherwise alone.
I sniffed the air again, and the smell of blood was unmistakable. We were in the right place, but there was no fae in sight and no sign of the teens. My nerves felt so jangled and raw I worried I might shake apart then and there. How could we be so close and still not find them? I could smell Penny here, the unmistakable mixture of Love’s Baby Soft perfume and the sweetness of watermelon Lip Smackers. The scent was so innocent it threatened to squeeze all the air out of my lungs.
That it was mingled with fresh blood made me want to throw up.
“Penny,” I wheezed.
Holden pressed a finger to my lips to silence me, but he was gentle and his eyes pleaded for me to not fight him. Personally I didn’t think being quiet mattered. I was certain we’d announced our arrival clearly enough when I’d kicked in the front door. He cocked his head to the side, then dropped to his hands and knees and put his ear to the dirty floor.
Oh. He’d been trying to listen.
He beckoned for me to join him, and I collapsed to the floor next to him, our faces mere inches from the huge rectangular slab that must have been someone’s ostentatious final resting place. It also placed me so close to Holden our noses brushed when I lowered my head to listen. Another time, another place, he would have made a comment, but he was totally focused on what he heard below us.
At first I heard nothing.
Then I heard a muffled thump and a scrabbling noise, followed by a short cry cut off halfway. They were underneath us, and the sounds let me dare to hope someone was still alive down there. I heaved myself up from the floor and used all my strength to push against the concrete box. I would worry later about what it meant to desecrate someone’s burial site. For now I wanted to be sure no other lives ended here.
Holden got up and helped me push, and with our combined strength, the tomb slid aside, revealing a gaping hole in the floor. I’d been so preoccupied with getting our obstacle out of the way I hadn’t been prepared for it to move so easily. I stumbled and almost fell into the hole when Holden grabbed me by the waist and pulled me back. In my panic I dropped my sword, and it clattered into the dark pit.
Below there was a hiss and a garbled rant that didn’t sound like any human language I’d ever heard.
Bracing my hand on Holden’s forearm, I looked back at him and said, “I need to go down there.”
“If you think I’m letting you go down there alo—”
I didn’t need to hear the rest of his protest to know he’d follow me, so I squirmed out of his arms and jumped into the hole. In some respects it was a blessing in disguise that the sword fell first. Having heard it fall, I could get a rough idea of how long the drop was so I knew it wasn’t going to kill me to jump.